The Lede, Wednesday, April 4, 2018
By David Royse
On this day in 1968, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated in Memphis, Tenn.
Aquila and the Loon
I’ve written here a couple times recently about efforts by SpaceX and others to put up constellations of satellites that would beam the internet back to Earth in an effort to make connectivity available just about everywhere.
But I listened this morning to an interview with Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and he mentioned something I didn’t know: Facebook is working on a drone program to essentially do the same thing.
And that reminded me that after Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico last year, I learned for the first time that a Google unit called X has been working for five years on a project to provide internet coverage in remote areas by balloon. That’s called Project Loon.
Here’s a little more on these two efforts, from Facebook and Google, to provide worldwide internet connectivity.
First, since Facebook is in the news every day now, let’s start there.
Its lightweight, solar-powered drone is known as Aquila, and it flew some test flights in the desert in Arizona last year. The Zuck put some video of this thing on his own Facebook page for all of us to admire. It kind of looks like either a thin stealth bomber, or an electric boomerang. He wrote about it here
Recode had something on the Aquila’s second test flight last summer, noting that Facebook wants to connect more people around the world to the Internet so it can get more people around the world on Facebook. That may sound cynical, but it’s true. Facebook and Zuckerberg are unapologetic about their desire to connect more and more people all over the world.
Zuckerberg talks about some of the reasons he believes in connecting more and more people in the interview I heard that made me aware of this project (the drone project is just briefly mentioned, most of the interview is about Facebook and Zuckerberg.) The interview, from Freakonomics’ Stephen J. Dubner, just went up on the web a couple days ago, but it was recorded last summer before the Cambridge Analytica stuff became public knowledge. The whole interview is really interesting , it’s actually more like a conversation between two really, really smart guys, and definitely worth your time if you’re interested in social media.
Not everyone thinks this is great, by the way. Some telecomm companies in the developing world are working on providing internet through more traditional means – and they worry Facebook (or Google or SpaceX)’s effort to provide it for free takes business away from them.
Google’s X has been working on Project Loon for several years now. It’s basically envisioned as a fleet of balloons with overlapping coverage of given areas.
Here’s how that works
The Puerto Rico/Hurricane Maria connection I mentioned above is this: the company got an experimental license to provide balloon-delivered internet to storm-battered PR after the hurricane, and was able to get connections to about 10k people.
Meanwhile, SpaceX is moving forward wiith its plan to put more than 4k satellites in orbit that would beam internet back to broad areas of the Earth, having gotten FCC approval to move forward just last week. More on that here
Speaking of Facebook, here’s a status update.
Zuckerberg is kicking the Russian trolls off of Facebook.
We also now know that the Zuck will appear before Congress a week from today, April 11.
And, Variety has an interesting cover story, “How Privacy Crisis Could Change Big Data Forever,” by Todd Spangler.
AND THEN THERE’S THIS
There’s a guy who says he can upload the contents of your brain to preserve said contents forever. But he has to kill you first, because it involves filling your blood vessels with some kind of embalming fluid.
The company is called Nectome. In what’s probably a very good idea, MIT says it is severing ties with the company, apparently deciding that fatal brain uploading just isn’t compatible with its brand. Astonishingly, Nectome has already been paid $200,000 in deposits by people who want to become digitally immortal (while becoming physically very mortal). “The MIT Media Lab will sever ties with a brain-embalming company that promoted euthanasia to people hoping for digital immortality through ‘brain uploads,’ MIT said. MIT also quoted a neuroscientist on its website as saying that basically, the whole idea is bunk.
“‘Fundamentally, the company is based on a proposition that is just false. It is something that just can’t happen,’ says Sten Linnarsson of the Karolinska Institute in Sweden,” the MIT site says.
Amazingly, Nectome was backed by Y Combinator even though its co-founder described the procedure as “100 percent fatal.”
The whole idea originally was covered by MIT’s own MIT Technology Review
NOTES FROM THE AGE OF DISRUPTION:
Is working on a touchless iPhone. Reuters
Dallas-based sports gear e-commerce platform gets $35M investment. DMagazine
Wants to be a social platform for working parents. It launches to the public today. Chariman Mom
The crytopcurrency startup has raised $10 million (real money) in new funding. Coindesk
More Business News
China’s response: More tariffs from China in response to U.S. import tariffs. The Chinese announced their intent today to slap tariffs on soybeans, planes, cars, whiskey chemicals and other goods in retaliation. Reuters
As always, I welcome your thoughts, criticisms, questions, prayers, condescension, offers to buy me beer and general salutations. @daveroyse on Twitter or firstname.lastname@example.org